Friday, the station had a huge clothing drive. People donated hundreds, likely thousands, of items of clothing to be distributed to the less fortunate. I am slightly embarrassed to say how much I longed to search through the stacks! My winter boots have fallen apart, my sandals broke on Thursday, the only pair of pants I own that aren’t ripped are missing a button. Much of my success in life, such as it is, has been due to my ability to look and act less financially poor than I actually am.
I can’t pretend to run with the truly middle class – the people who own their homes, get dental care, occasionally leave the continent on vacation, who aren’t risking going overdrawn when they impulsively buy their kids ice cream – but I can pass to an extent. The job perks – cultural forays and gym memberships – help, but nonetheless, the illusion feels in danger of being shattered. And you can’t look like a loser or people start treating you like one. You have to maintain appearances.
I can’t sleep for worry.
I don’t mean to whine about money. I don’t mean to whine at all, really. Especially about money, because everybody I know has problems of their own and I’ve shared this litany before.
But I can’t always distinguish between what is self-indulgent complaining and what is legitimate writing about a subject others may relate to. Especially at Christmas.
Christmas has a way of illuminating what I don’t have in my life even as it reminds me to be grateful for what I do have. I remain mired in my own troubles at the same time keenly aware of all the ways in which things could be worse. I’d take a lack of money over other losses, certainly – and sure, money wouldn’t solve my problems, but man, it sure has a way of soothing over the hurts. Having enough of it beats not having enough. When every moment of every day unfolds in the shadow of “I can’t afford,” my confidence ebbs to nothing. All these years of juggling jobs with school and kids – shouldn’t they have amounted to more by now?
Money alone wouldn’t fix Nick’s diabetes or Bobby’s asthma, but acquiring the medicine needed would put us in control, elevate us from victim status. Money won’t create a perfect marriage, but the lack of it amplifies differences, provokes sessions of blame. Having money would enable us to distract ourselves, treat ourselves, empower us to build layers of good times between the bad. We don’t fight about whose turn it is to make dinner when going out is a viable option. We wouldn’t argue over whether or not to spend the grocery money on beans instead of bread if the budget wasn’t so tight we had to choose.
If I had money, I wouldn’t lie awake at night worried I made a terrible mistake by committing us to San Francisco for Christmas. Caught up in the idea that the trip would make Christmas extra special, excited by the science museum and the amazing deal on the hotel, I let optimism guide me.
Reality smacked optimism hard upside the head last week and I can no longer make the numbers work in my favor. No matter how I adjust, I can’t see how to cover hotel plus gas plus food plus museums plus the tune-up the car so desperately needs before we get on the road. I was not prepared for the propane to run out.
I check the mail each day, praying the Christmas spirit moved my dad, Bobby’s dad, into writing a check, but even in my haze of greed (Is it greed to hope your father would help you? To hope your children’s grandfather would kick in to make the holidays easier?), I know that scenario to be unlikely.
And if money had been saved or inherited or somehow come in greater abundance, I could have directed Chelsea into a better situation than she’s created for herself. I could rescue her from the hole she’s digging right now. I could wave the magic money wand and say, “Here. I will pay for this if you do this,” opening a path she wouldn’t otherwise take. I’m all for character-building and making one’s own way through life, but I don’t want her to end up where I am, with nothing but character to pay the bills.
Isn’t that what we want as parents? Isn’t that the cliché? To want to provide a better life, more choices, right the wrongs, give what we ourselves lacked? Of course I made mistakes – awful mistakes at times – but I’d hoped the hard work and great force of love would triumph. But her choices are not reflecting that to be the case. It’s killing me. This is the thing that matters; I can hardly bear moving about the shallow areas of my life, blathering about music and cocktails and party times, when my child is floundering in the deep end. My god, how do people with bigger problems cope? I already feel life is so fragile, this thing I’ve created held together by balancing one block against another. I want to build a house, solid and tight, but only know how to make a leaky lean-to. One bad storm will undo it all.
Maybe not having enough money will force me into greater resourcefulness and creativity. I see that happen to people. Ultimately, that’s what it comes down to, I suppose. People who don’t have money, but still want to have a life, who know they must provide regardless, they get up at 5 a.m. and stay up till midnight working to keep things together. They don’t buy drinks, they don’t stop to read books, they don’t waste time typing blog posts about their problems.
So I guess I should stop the one and start the other.